The Golden LEAF Board of Directors adopted a long-term strategic plan in February 2021 to help address some of the economic challenges facing North Carolina. The goal of the strategic plan is to help Golden LEAF become more effective, efficient, and impactful in moving the economic needle in rural, economically distressed, and tobacco-dependent North Carolina communities.
The plan distilled the Board’s vision into these strategic priorities:
- To increase job creation and economic investment in rural, economically distressed, and tobacco-dependent communities
- To improve workforce preparedness in rural, economically distressed, and tobacco-dependent communities
- To increase the value of North Carolina’s agriculture industry
- To improve the competitiveness, capacity, and vitality of targeted communities
- To have, and be recognized for, excellence in organizational collaboration, innovation, and impact
Golden LEAF is making important changes to our funding programs, outreach strategies, and other practices that serve as a critical component to implement our strategic planning goals. The LEAF in Golden LEAF stands for the long-term economic advancement foundation. The Golden LEAF Board and staff remain focused on moving the economic needle in rural, economically distressed, and tobacco-dependent areas of North Carolina.
Organizational Collaboration, Innovation, and Impact
To help address goals within organizational collaboration, innovation, and impact, I have been reaching out to community college presidents, chancellors, and other officials and funders to talk one on one about what they are seeing as opportunities to collaborate and create impact in economic development in our rural, tobacco-dependent, and economically distressed communities.
We continue to focus investments in one Prosperity Zone each year through the Community-Based Grants Initiative (CBGI) process. The Golden LEAF Board of Directors approved CBGI funding in the Northwest Prosperity Zone in April 2021 and are expecting CBGI Stage 1 Applications from the Western Prosperity Zone on September 30th. This initiative helps us to invest in the building blocks of economic growth through focused collaboration, capacity building, and outreach.
I also started a series of video interviews with prominent economic development officials called Critical Conversations. So far, I’ve talked with Economist Dr. Michael Walden of N.C. State University, Chief Executive Officer Chris Chung of EDPNC, President Thomas Stith of the North Carolina Community College System, Dean Richard Linton of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University, and most recently with President and Chief Executive Officer Tracy Doaks of MCNC. I look forward to having these conversations with the abundant list of officials that have expertise in the priorities we focus on within economic advancement.
Finally, we are going to be launching dedicated email updates for grantees and other officials that share our strategic priority areas of job creation and economic investment, workforce preparedness, and agriculture. The goal of these targeted communications is to help build awareness of our programs, partners, and measurable outcomes in a specific priority area, as well as, open the door to innovative ideas and collaboration that will have lasting economic impact.
Golden LEAF Scholarship Program
One of the longest running programs of the Golden LEAF Foundation is the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program. Golden LEAF offers scholarships to students from rural areas to attend both our state’s two- and four-year institutions.
On August 18, Golden LEAF welcomed Arlena Ratliff as the Scholarship Program Manager, a new position responsible for leading outreach and engagement efforts with future, current, and former Golden LEAF Scholars and stakeholders. This position will also manage scholarship grant awards to administering entities as well awards for administration of leadership and internship program elements.
At the June 2021 meeting, the Golden LEAF Board reviewed opportunities to enhance the Four-Year Golden LEAF Scholarship, including increasing the award amount and providing additional programmatic support to students, with more updates to be announced following the October meeting of the Golden LEAF Board.
The goal of the enhanced program is to increase the quantity and quality of graduates returning to rural communities. We anticipate changes in the Four-Year Golden LEAF Scholarship component to take effect in 2022. We will include more information and updates on the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program on the website and in upcoming newsletters in the fall of 2021.
Site Development and Infrastructure Program
Launching at the end of this month is a new program focused on developing new sites for economic development opportunities in rural areas. This program will help promote economic development resulting in job creation and private investment throughout North Carolina. For FY 2021-2022, $10 million has been budgeted for the new program to make awards of up to $1 million, on a competitive basis, to eligible applicants to significantly advance a project toward development of a site that is attractive to businesses.
The program will support projects that increase inventory of viable sites that are attractive to industry, where businesses can expand or locate within the state; have potential to create new, full-time jobs in the near term that are at or above the county average wage; and are on publicly owned or publicly controlled property. Golden LEAF anticipates supporting identification, due diligence, and development projects under this new program. The program is designed to build upon and leverage existing programs across North Carolina, including the recently launched program from the North Carolina Railroad as well as programs offered by state and federal partners.
We will include updates on this program on the website and in the next edition of the newsletter.
Open Grants Program
The Open Grants Program provides funding throughout the year in the Golden LEAF priority areas of job creation and economic investment; workforce preparedness; agriculture; and community competitiveness, capacity, and vitality. Under the Open Grants Program, most projects are awarded at $200,000 or less.
At the June 2021 meeting, the Golden LEAF Board approved establishing criteria and an application process for requests for funding of more than $200,000, up to a maximum of $500,000, from this program. Projects eligible for up to $500,000 have a defined set of characteristics listed on the Open Grants Program webpage.
Applicants looking to apply for more than $200,000 from this program, must first have a consultation with Golden LEAF staff to discuss the project and how the project addresses the characteristics that would potentially lead to a higher award level.
We have an open door policy and invite potential applicants to reach out with any questions.